Travel Series #10
We have been planning nearly a year for our big European Adventure. The trip was booked in August, the airfare secured in October and we saved up all year long. Next week we embark on our journey. But before we go, there are some final preparations that must be made.
Currency Conversion and Credit Cards
First order of business is converting American money into Euro’s or whatever currency is needed. On this trip we will be going to 7 countries. 5 of those countries take the Euro so I only plan to obtain the Euro. I started watching the Exchange rate in August 2017 and checked daily. The Euro had been strong the whole way, ugh. Right here near the end, the exchange rate has dropped from about 1.26 down to 1.17. That may not sound like a big deal, but it kinda is to me. That’s about $100 savings on $1000 exchange or in my mind 1 days spending money for 2 people. Another tip is doing research as to what institution has the best rate. I checked all 3 of my banks, AAA and one of my major credit cards. They all build a markup into the true exchange rate or charge a flat fee. Do shop them for best price. They all have to order in or ship you the currency which generally takes 3-7 days. Make sure to allow enough time before your trip.
Next since we are traveling through several countries with multiple currencies, I checked my credit cards to see if they charged a foreign transaction fee. They all did so I signed up for a new credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This allows me to use the card in the non Euro countries without worrying about converting American Money. This card came with a few bells and whistles too.
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1 point per $1 earned on all purchases
- 3x points on one category of my choice per quarter
- Statement Bonus of $200 if I spend $500 in first 60 days of opening
On our first trip we took all cash with us and never used a credit card. This trip will be different. Although we have the cash to pay for our spending, we will use the new card and carry less cash and just pay it off when we get home. We will use the card for things like our Total excursions cost to the Travel company (our biggest expense) and meals and other expenses in the non Euro countries. By paying for the excursions on the card, they will qualify us for the $200 opening bonus on the card and 3x points for the Travel category. Winning.
- Airport Parking/Shuttles: We live over an hour away from the airport. My daughter would be glad to take us but she lives an hour more in the other direction and we fly out on a Wed afternoon. Hard to ask someone for a ride for that type of itinerary. So we will drive and park our car at a local lot that shuttles us into the airport. With my AAA discount, it is about $8 per day. Make sure you include your mode of transport to the airport and consider meals/snacks you may have while waiting there. Our flight over has a 3 hour layover in Amsterdam, so there could be a snack there.
- Meals: Since we are going on this trip with a tour group, all of our Breakfasts are included. Lunch is on our own but there are 6 nights that dinner is provided. On travel days we sometimes stop along the highway and grab a quick snack/lunch, but you can never be sure. I recommend grabbing a piece of fruit or something for your travel bag, just in case. Dont forget about the snack you just cant pass up when creating your budget, like a gelato or a slice of pizza.
- This is where my silly spreadsheet comes in handy. I match up the trip days, with the included meals and highlight the days that have no provided dinner. On those days I look at which excursions include dinner. If I can get an adventure plus a meal on those days it reduces my out of pocket costs. We did this on our first trip and I was never disappointed. We also have 2-3 nights that we just pick up dinner on our own. Perfect we just have to budget for that.
- Excursions: There are plenty of included activities but they also offer some fun extras. For us we will cash in our AAA bonus Excursions and choose a few others over the 2 weeks that sound interesting. These range in price so consult your travel sheet so you don’t end up with sticker shock. We will pay the Travel Director for these before the end of the trip.
On our last trip, one of my favorite excursions was a day trip to the Island of Burano off the coast of Venice. The picture on my blog was taken there. It included explore time and a meal with many courses, wonderful fresh seafood, and all the wine and beer we could drink.
This trip I am looking forward to visiting the Schonbrunn Palace in Austria. It was designed to rival Versaille in Paris.
- Independant Transportation Costs: During our free time, we try to walk most places. But sometimes we get tired or walking is just not practical so we grab a taxi or a bus. In London we will be booking a Hop On Hop Off package for our solo day there. Don’t forget to include these in your budget.
- Souvenirs: I am not much of a shopper when on these types of trips. We wander through some shops, but it is never a big part of my focus. We bring home very little in the way of trinkets for ourselves, a few things for our kids and close friends/family. I will however, bring home wine or specialty liquours like limoncello. My friend Phung and I always grab a bottle of something for the other when we travel. It’s fun. So use your judgement on how much you plan to bring back when figuring out this piece of your budget.
- Tips: Also under spending is planning our daily travel budget and tips for the Travel Director, the Bus Driver and any Local Experts. I looked up the Trafalgar site and it recommends $4.75 pp per day for Travel Director and $3 pp per day for the Coach Driver. We will also encounter Local Experts in most cities that will take us on a walking tour and guide us through some sites. It is suggested to tip them $2 per person. All of this will come from my converted currency.
Now add up the estimations made for all these categories to determine the trip spending budget. Determine which things will be paid by a credit card, which to use American currency for and then how much foreign currency is needed. Try not to get too much exchanged or you lose if you exchange again. Keep your ears open for anyone traveling abroad in the near future who might take any extras off your hands to avoid that loss.
- Stop the mail
- Stop the paper
- If you live in a house. Let a trusted neighbor, friend or relative know you’ll be gone to kinda keep an eye on things.
- Make sure someone knows an approximate itinerary or has a way to contact us if there is an emergency.
- Pay all bills due during your trip dates before leaving.
- Contact the credit card company and tell them the travel plans, otherwise they may disable the card if they see foreign charges.
- Make arrangements for any pets or plants that will need care. We have no pets at the moment, but I have a plant that will need care.
- Our luggage lives in a basement closet so I must Bring it up to a handy spot to start airing out and so I can prepare to pack.
- We have a go-bag with shampoo, soap, toothpaste etc. Going through it’s stock to see what needs replaced or replenished.
When all this is done, I’m gonna kick back and drink a glass of wine. We are almost there! Andiamo!